Achieving efficient document management

Dave EvansIt is expected that the new UK government will negotiate harder with suppliers in order to reduce project costs. According to data published on the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), UK government currently spends around £220bn on goods and services – that’s about £1 in every £4 spent in total by the Exchequer. Recently the OGC made its intentions clear that it is working towards achieving six key goals related to cost cuts that emerged during consultation with stakeholders.
    
It is the aim of the OGC to ensure that government – both central Whitehall departments and the wider public sector – maximises the value it achieves from this spend through a variety of approaches. Most important among these will be engaging with the government’s strategic suppliers to foster greater innovation and value within the supply chain.
    
It is therefore clear that all organisations that do business with the government will need every advantage possible to help them reduce their costs. But how to cut costs is not the only critical question facing IT managers within the public sector. In recent years the calls for greater transparency and freedom of information, or a universal “right to government data”, have grown louder. Add to this the need to maintain accurate and accessible records for the purposes of eDiscovery processes, and you have a long list of reasons why many organisations now look specifically to optical character recognition (OCR) or data capture software for an advantage.

Key to effective solutions
So what are the key points that every IT manager needs to know in order to implement an effective solution? As with any business process, not having a well thought out strategy in place can cause delays, frustrations and added expense.
    
A good plan should begin with three basic questions: What infrastructure is in place to deal with and reduce costs associated with the growth in documents and the data contained in paper? How can you make the information stored in documents available to a wider audience? If you are adhering to the rules that deal with data retention are you storing that data in a safe method?
    
Costs savings can be achieved through many means, not least by automating manual processes. Manual processing is not only fraught with inefficiencies and errors – it is also expensive. By automating the repetitive tasks of document handling, data entry and validation, staff can be reduced or reassigned to higher-value tasks. Data capture technologies enable businesses to automatically retrieve numerous fields of data from business critical documents such as invoices, contracts and shipping notes. After the key information is extracted it can easily be entered into any number of backend systems including databases and document management systems.
    
Next in line for consideration are OCR technologies, which allow you to convert physical documents and scanned images of paper documents into digital form, most often as searchable PDF. Converting legacy document files to digitised form reduces space and the costs associated with physical storage such as rent, heating and cooling. By creating a searchable archive, the time needed to locate and retrieve a file is significantly reduced. Organisations are therefore able to free up employees to concentrate on more productive activities. Finally, the productivity increase and cost savings can be applied as well to new and incoming documents by setting rules for and streamlining the routing of those files.

The right choice
As a senior public sector manager how you choose to implement OCR and recognition technology in your organisation is up to you. Desktop OCR is ideal for companies that process only a few documents at a time. For high volumes or workgroup scanning centralised and automated OCR on a server is a better solution, with an option to scale up by adding new stations as input volume increases.
    
Calls for greater transparency and openness in government abound these days. Just one recent example: in discussion currently is a call for the Supply2Gov website to publish all tender governments above a certain value. As many of these are paper documents or in PDF form, how can that publishing be easily achieved and in a cost effective manner? By applying OCR and converting the information in these documents to useable and editable data organisations are able to share and distribute the content through any number of means, including on the web.
    
Although OCR software will not answer which documents need to be kept to comply with retention laws, it will allow you to safely archive those that you deem important. However, creating a searchable PDF today means you can quickly find that document tomorrow, but what if you need the same document 20 years from now? PDF/Archive or PDF/A is the electronic document file format for long-term preservation. It was developed to provide a file format with a mechanism for representing electronic documents in a way that will preserve the visual content over a long period of time. This means that organisations have the assurance that a system they implement now will allow documents to be easily retrieved even if the need lies well into the future.
    
Faster access
Demands for faster access to information and higher productivity, and new regulations for data access and archiving, mean that those working in public sector IT need the right solutions for document and data management. The ease and efficiency of implementing and using OCR or Data Capture software today means that working with digitised documents can bring about more than just compliance – other benefits include improved productivity, efficiency and cost savings. And after considering that in most scenarios an ROI can easily be achieved within 12-18 months, is there any reason to put off the decision?

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